The start-or-sit dilemma is part of managing a fantasy football team.
Having the foresight to start the wide receiver who goes for 100 yards and a touchdown in a matchup while sitting a receiver against a shutdown cornerback is one of the keys to victory.
For this version of a start-or-sit, I’m going to be listing all relevant fantasy football players each week and placing them into tiers.
And to take some of the guesswork out of it, I’ll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based in numberFire’s player projections with dynamic measures for variance, such as quarterback rushing, running back receiving, and receiver target depth.
The results will boil down to three tiers: players we should be confident about starting, players we can consider starting whenever we don’t have better alternatives, but who aren’t must-plays and players we should try to bench whenever we do have better alternatives.
These players are listed in order of frequency of hitting the stated threshold (i.e. QB12, RB24, WR24, and TE12 performances and higher on the list means more start-able).
The groupings reflect a 12-team, single-quarterback league with the following hypothetical in mind: if I had other viable options on my bench or the waiver-wire, should I start this player this week?
Players not listed should be presumed sit-worthy in a shallow or standard-sized league, and all fantasy points references and rankings reflect half-PPR scoring.
Start with confidence: These players are at least 50% likely to finish the week as a top-12 quarterback, according to the slate simulations.
— Josh Allen at JAC (82%)
— Lamar Jackson vs. MIN (73%)
— Patrick Mahomes vs. GB (69%)
— Matthew Stafford vs. TEN (69%)
— Dak Prescott vs. DEN (65%)
— Kyler Murray at SF (58%)
— Justin Herbert at PHI (56%)
— Jalen Hurts vs. LAC (56%)
— Tua Tagovailoa vs. HOU (54%)
Miami's Tua Tagovailoa has earned a spot in this elite tier. In two games with DeVante Parker healthy during Tua’s starts, Tagovailoa has posted above-expectation-level efficiency yet has averaged just 203.5 passing yards and 0.5 passing touchdowns. In that small sample, he has faced the NFL’s top-ranked adjusted pass defense (the Buffalo Bills) and a top-20 unit (the New York Giants). This week, he gets the Houston Texans’ 27th-ranked adjusted pass defense.
Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
— Joe Burrow vs. CLE (48%)
— Daniel Jones vs. LV (46%)
— Ryan Tannehill at LA (46%)
— Carson Wentz vs. NYJ (46%)
— Derek Carr at NYG (44%)
— Kirk Cousins at BAL (44%)
— Tyrod Taylor at MIA (43%)
Joe Burrow could have a tough time as the Cincinnati Bengals draw the Cleveland Browns, who rank fourth in pass rush, via PFF. He’s yet to face a top-10 team in pressure rate and has just two matchups against top-20 units, via NextGenStats’ pressure rate data. But it’s not enough to bench Burrow unless you have tantalizing options ahead of him, as he averaged 348.5 yards and 2.5 passing touchdowns in those high-pressure matchups.
Carson Wentz draws the New York Jets, who rank 25th against the pass here at numberFire, and in three games against adjusted pass defenses outside the top 20, Wentz has averaged 284.3 yards and 2.0 passing touchdowns with a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop-back rate of 0.45. The NFL average this season is 0.13.
Derek Carr has been great this season, and his 324.1 passing yards and 1.7 passing touchdowns increases to 381.3 yards and 2.0 touchdowns against bottom-half pass defenses, which the Giants are (20th).
Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (17th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.
Teddy Bridgewater at DAL (34%); Mac Jones at CAR (31%); Jordan Love at KC (31%); Mike White at IND (31%); Baker Mayfield at CIN (30%); Ben Roethlisberger vs. CHI (29%); Justin Fields at PIT (28%); Trevor Lawrence vs. BUF (27%); Matt Ryan at NO (26%); Jimmy Garoppolo vs. ARI (20%).
Start with confidence: These running backs are at least 60% likely to finish the week inside the top 24, according to the slate simulations. You’re starting them.
— Jonathan Taylor vs. NYJ (84%)
— Alvin Kamara vs. ATL (83%)
— Najee Harris vs. CHI (81%)
— Dalvin Cook at BAL (78%)
— Nick Chubb at CIN (76%)
— Austin Ekeler at PHI (76%)
— Ezekiel Elliott vs. DEN (76%)
— Aaron Jones at KC (74%)
— Darrell Henderson vs. TEN (74%)
— Cordarrelle Patterson at NO (66%)
— Joe Mixon vs. CLE (66%)
— Myles Gaskin vs. HOU (64%)
— Michael Carter at IND (62%)
— Devontae Booker vs. LV (60%)
Consider if needed: This tier is sitting between 35% and 59% for an RB2 week, and you’re probably starting some of them even if they’re shy of that top tier.
— Eli Mitchell vs. ARI (57%)
— Josh Jacobs at NYG (56%)
— Khalil Herbert at PIT (55%)
— Christian McCaffrey vs. NE (54%)(asterisk)
— Damien Harris at CAR (52%)
— Zack Moss at JAC (49%)
— Melvin Gordon at DAL (45%)
— Chase Edmonds at SF (45%)
— Adrian Peterson at LA (43%)
— Javonte Williams at DAL (42%)
— Devin Singletary at JAC (40%)
— Boston Scott vs. LAC (38%)
— Darrel Williams vs. GB (38%)
— Tony Pollard vs. DEN (38%)
— Salvon Ahmed vs. HOU (38%)
— Chuba Hubbard vs. NE (37%)
— Mike Davis at NO (36%)
(asterisk)Christian McCaffrey is currently projected at half of his workload. If he starts, you’re starting him.
Eli Mitchell has solidified himself as a strong running back play each week. He has played 66.4% of snaps and ran a route on 47.4% of the San Francisco 49ers’ drop-backs (per NextGenStats) over the past two games while posting per-game averages of 18.0 carries and 3.0 red zone carries. Though he hasn’t seen a target, the route rate is promising. The Arizona Cardinals rank 24th in rushing success rate allowed to running backs.
Zack Moss saw a pretty sizable shift in his passing role last week. Moss ran a route on 51.2% of the Buffalo Bills’ drop-backs last week while seeing a heavy target load (seven) in addition to a modest rushing workload (eight carries and three red zone carries). He’s a strong RB2 play in an offense expected to put up plenty of points.
Our model at numberFire likes Adrian Peterson to contribute right away this week against the Los Angeles Rams, a team that is actually just 20th in Rushing NEP per carry allowed to backs so far this season. Jeremy McNichols is just at the top of the “Bench if possible” tier.
Boston Scott was the primary back for the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 without Miles Sanders. He played on 43.5% of the snaps and ran nine routes (actually a 56.3% rate in a run-heavy romp). The Los Angeles Chargers invite the run and are 32nd in both Rushing NEP per carry and Rushing Success Rate allowed to opposing running backs.
Bench if possible: These backs are under 35% likely to net a top-24 result.
Jeremy McNichols at LA (32%); James Conner at SF (30%); Kenyan Drake at NYG (30%); David Johnson at MIA (30%); James Robinson vs. BUF (29%); Nyheim Hines vs. NYJ (29%); Ty Johnson at IND (27%); Carlos Hyde vs. BUF (27%); Mark Ingram vs. ATL (26%); Kenneth Gainwell vs. LAC (23%); Latavius Murray vs. MIN (23%); A.J. Dillon at KC (22%); Sony Michel vs. TEN (19%); D’Ernest Johnson at CIN (19%); Damien Williams at PIT (18%).
Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.
— Cooper Kupp vs. TEN (90%)
— Deebo Samuel vs. ARI (74%)
— Tyreek Hill vs. GB (68%)
— A.J. Brown at LA (68%)
— Davante Adams at KC (67%)
— Ja’Marr Chase vs. CLE (65%)
— Stefon Diggs at JAC (64%)
— DeAndre Hopkins at SF (60%)
— Robert Woods vs. TEN (59%)
— Amari Cooper vs. DEN (57%)
— Mike Williams at PHI (56%)
— Justin Jefferson at BAL (55%)
— Jaylen Waddle vs. HOU (55%)
— CeeDee Lamb vs. DEN (54%)
— Diontae Johnson vs. CHI (54%)
— Marquise Brown vs. MIN (53%)
— D.J. Moore vs. NE (53%)
Consider if needed: These players are more matchup dependent for Week 1 than the tier above but are likely where we are looking for a lot of our WR2, WR3, and FLEX plays this week.
— Tee Higgins vs. CLE (49%)
— Keenan Allen at PHI (49%)
— DeVante Parker vs. HOU (48%)
— Michael Pittman Jr. vs. NYJ (47%)
— Emmanuel Sanders at JAC (45%)
— Courtland Sutton at DAL (44%)
— DeVonta Smith vs. LAC (43%)
— Adam Thielen at BAL (43%)
— Brandin Cooks at MIA (41%)
— Chase Claypool vs. CHI (39%)
— Kadarius Toney vs. LV (39%)
— Jakobi Meyers at CAR (37%)
— Cole Beasley at JAC (36%)
— Jerry Jeudy at DAL (36%)
— Jarvis Landry at CIN (36%)
In games with both Tua Tagovailoa and DeVante Parker healthy, Parker has a 28.1% target share, tied with Jaylen Waddle for the team lead. Waddle finds himself in the tier above Parker, which makes sense. He has a better weighted workload (11.7 weighted targets, stemming from 2.0 downfield and 2.0 red zone targets in this two-game sample). Parker is at 10.1 weighted targets (1.5 downfield targets per game with no red zone work here). The Texans are 24th in player-adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to opposing wide receivers.
Michael Pittman Jr.‘s workload is pretty phenomenal. Since Week 2, he has accounted for 26.8% of the Colts’ targets and 37.0% of their air yards with high leverage on his looks: 2.9 downfield targets, 1.3 red zone targets, and 0.7 end zone targets per game. In this sample, he’s 12th among all active players in target market share.
We can easily get discouraged by the showings from Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy from Week 8, when the Denver Broncos shared the ball with everyone, but the algorithm likes them to provide fantasy value in a fantasy-friendly game against the Dallas Cowboys, who rank just 22nd in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to receivers.
The Cleveland Browns’ passing offense should run through Jarvis Landry moving forward. Landry, in two games with at least 55.0% of the team’s snaps, has accounted for 25.9% of the team’s targets and 27.5% of their air yards. That has equated to 7.5 targets, 13.2 half-PPR points per game, and 12.5 expected half-PPR points per game.
Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 30% of the time.
Marvin Jones vs. BUF (34%); Hunter Renfrow at NYG (34%); Jamison Crowder at IND (33%); Christian Kirk at SF (32%); Rashod Bateman vs. MIN (31%); Bryan Edwards at NYG (30%); Darius Slayton vs. LV (29%); Julio Jones at LA (28%); Darnell Mooney at PIT (28%); Van Jefferson vs. TEN (26%); Nelson Agholor at CAR (24%); Allen Robinson at PIT (23%); Tyler Boyd vs. CLE (23%).
Start with confidence: These guys are the big six for the week.
— Travis Kelce vs. GB (84%)
— Darren Waller at NYG (78%)
— Mark Andrews vs. MIN (74%)
— Kyle Pitts at NO (63%)
— Dallas Goedert vs. LAC (62%)
— Mike Gesicki vs. HOU (58%)
Consider in needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.
— Dalton Schultz vs. DEN (49%)
— Tyler Higbee vs. TEN (49%)
— Jared Cook at PHI (45%)
— Austin Hooper at CIN (43%)
— Evan Engram vs. LV (42%)
— Zach Ertz at SF (39%)
— Noah Fant at DAL (39%)
— Dan Arnold vs. BUF (37%)
— Hunter Henry at CAR (36%)
— Tyler Conklin at BAL (33%)
— Hayden Hurst at NO (32%)
— Cole Kmet at PIT (32%)
Noah Fant’s target share (19.6%) trails only Darren Waller’s (24.1%), Mark Andrews’ (22.5%), Travis Kelce’s (22.3%), and T.J. Hockenson’s (21.8%) among the position this season. The Cowboys rank 28th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends.
Since Week 5, after a 30.9% snap rate debut for Dan Arnold with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the tight end has a 69.4% route rate — a top-14 mark at the position in that span. He’s also fifth in targets per game (7.7) in that sample, trailing tight ends Kelce (10.0), Andrews (8.7), Hockenson (8.5), and Kyle Pitts (8.0).
Over the past three weeks, Cole Kmet ranks sixth in target market share (20.5%) at the position, though the low-volume nature of the Chicago Bears’ offense has resulted in just 5.7 targets per game. He has a good red zone role (36.4%), but a terribly low average depth of target (5.6). You could do worse than Kmet in a pinch, and the target share helps separate him from the tier below.
Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.
Mo Alie-Cox vs. NYJ (30%); Jonnu Smith at CAR (26%); Tommy Sweeney at JAC (24%); Jack Doyle vs. NYJ (22%); Pat Freiermuth vs. CHI (22%); David Njoku at CIN (21%); Adam Trautman vs. ATL (18%); Jack Stoll vs. LAC (18%); C.J. Uzomah vs. CLE (15%).